It will probably come as no surprise to learn that many of the movies on this list are foreign, and those that are American are still rooted in the traditions and flavors of a host of old countries. There’s something about celebrating meals, real, genuine meals, that seems to thrive the most in stories set outside our modern culture. For lovers of food, from college students on up, these aren’t just great movies but great opportunities to revel in the pure joy of a good meal.
1. Babette’s Feast
Winner of the Academy Award for best foreign-language film, this 1987 Danish movie leads up to a lavish feast that dominates the final act. The meal unites the characters around the table and leads them to reconcile with one another, restoring their spiritual health as much as providing physical nourishment.
2. Big Night
Directed by Stanley Tucci and Campbell Scott and starring Tucci, Ian Holm, Isabella Rossellini, Tony Shalhoub, and Minnie Driver, Big Night is a dramatic comedy set at an Italian restaurant in 1950s New Jersey. The food and warmth are fantastic additions to a smart, underappreciated modern classic.
Juliette Binoche stars in this delightful comedy about a woman who opens a bar of chocolate in a small French village in the late 1950s. Her treats entice the townspeople and lead to heightened passions and heartfelt reconciliations.
4. Soul Food
Writer-director George Tillman based the characters in Soul Food on his own family members to create a warm, winning tale of a sprawling clan brought together every Sunday for supper. The 1997 film was later turned into a Showtime series that ran for five years, making it the longest-running drama with a predominantly African-American cast in American TV history.
This Japanese comedy is primarily about a pair of men helping a widowed restaurant owner turn her noodle shop into a success, and it features a number of smaller vignettes about the joys of food.
Pixar’s animated ode to cooking is everything you’d expect from the studio: funny, heartwarming, and full of characters possessed of an honest passion for their profession. It even manages to make a rat into a lovable (and hygienic) cooking companion, thanks in part to the voice work of comedian Patton Oswalt.
7. Eat Drink Man Woman
Ang Lee’s winning comedy follows a father and cook trying to manage his three daughters as they pursue love.
8. American Cuisine
Jason Lee stars in this often overlooked French film about an American chef exploring the world of European food. The plot’s pretty light, but the point is just to enjoy the atmosphere.
9. Tortilla Soup
Based on the aforementioned Eat Drink Man Woman, this American remake focuses on a Mexican-American family headed by a father who prepares elaborate meals for his wife and daughters. It fared well with critics and audiences, and it remains one of the most entertaining, feel-good movies for foodies.
10. Mostly Martha
Remade a few years later in the U.S. as No Reservations, this 2001 German film is a dramatic, romantic comedy about a chef who winds up taking care of her niece when the chef’s sister dies in an accident. The food factors heavily into the plot, and the story also includes segments in which the main character talks with her therapist about cooking.
11. Like Water for Chocolate
This sensual love story from Mexico wowed viewers and became a cross-cultural sensation. Food, cooking, and the art of making a meal run throughout the story.
12. The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover
Writer-director Peter Greenaway’s crime drama isn’t for everyone, and it takes plenty of dark turns. Yet it remains a popular movie for foodies because of its restaurant setting and the horrible ends met by some of the characters. (Let’s just say you are what you eat.)
Based on the life of Francois Vatel, a French chef from the 17th century, this sumptuous revolves around a feast thrown for King Louis XIV. Things get complicated when Vatel gets involved with the king’s lover.
14. Woman on Top
Penelope Cruz stars in this delightful comedy full of food, sex, and love. A great movie for fans of whimsical stories.
15. Who Is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe?
This comedic mystery follows a trio of food lovers and amateur sleuths as they try to figure out who’s killing major European chefs. In a twist, each chef is killed in the manner of their signature meal. A great treat for foodies and fans of classic comedy.
16. What’s Cooking?
This 2000 comedy follows four families as they come together for Thanksgiving and deal with a variety of personal problems. A solid comedy-drama and a great look at preparing a variety of meals.
17. La Grande Bouffe
This 1973 black comedy is as infamous for its sexuality and dark plot as it is for its gargantuan meals. Four men decide to escape to a villa where they plan on sleeping with prostitutes and eating themselves to death. A tough film but worthy of inclusion.
18. Dinner Rush
Starring Danny Aiello as a restaurant owner and bookie in Tribeca, this independent film mostly takes place over the course of a single night in one location, the restaurant. A fantastic movie about food and family.
Okay, it’s a bit of a cheat since this one’s about wine and not food in general. But the foodie passion is on display in the central character’s love of good wine. Paul Giamatti and Virginia Madsen give wonderful performances in this bittersweet love story.
Another dark comedy (there seem to be a lot of these where food is concerned), this early film from Jean-Pierre Jeunet is a marvelous union of food, character, and physical environments.